How We Doin’ So Far?

Our blog – Brand Building for Small Business – has now existed for two years . . . so the time seemed right to stop and perform some self-examination AND (even more importantly) ask for some feedback.

When we defined OUR brand, we determined that our focus would be providing a useful tool to smaller businesses – the kind of largely under-appreciated entrepreneurs who form such an important portion of the American business landscape.  (Also – in retrospect – a group that has been hit particularly hard by the recent pandemic of 2020-21 and in need of every possible competitive advantage that can be made available.)  Having worked many years for a company that targeted this same audience (a company that was – in fact – a small, underdog start-up at the time I was hired), Carole and I felt we brought some meaningful knowledge and expertise to the table.  Hopefully (two years later), you – our audience – agrees.

In establishing our brand, we also decided that we wanted to have a DYI (Do-It-Yourself) focus – believing that many small business owners would of necessity be taking on the challenges of building their own brands.  Consequently, we have tried to offer a blend of the conceptual framework needed to build a successful brand as well as practical tips and instruction.  Specifically, we offer thoughts on:

  • Identifying your audience
  • Establishing (and communicating) the philosophy that guides your development of products and services
  • Embodying a strong customer service orientation
  • Creating mission and vision statements to serve as a reminder of your brand and your short- and long-term goals as an organization
  • Building the visual elements of your brand (such as your logo, letterhead, envelopes, business cards, etc.)

Note:  Learn more about these brand “building blocks.”

In fact, we have focused on providing concrete tips and instruction (and sometimes even templates) to assist the budding entrepreneur in being successful in creating a brand without having to break an already tight budget.  Basically, we’re trying to share some of the knowledge that we acquired the hard way through trial and – all too often – error!  To enable you to avoid some of our missteps, we’ve tried to help you define your brand and create the tools needed to have a unique visual identity. We have tried to emphasize and demonstrate the importance of creating an attitude toward customers that gives real life and substance to your brand and shows that you both “walk the walk” and “talk the talk.”

In addition, we have sought to help you recognize the importance of seizing every opportunity to promote your brand to the public.  Toward that end, we discuss some of the many chances an entrepreneur has while still maintaining a DYI focus.  For instance, we offer instruction on creating and inexpensively disseminating press releases as well as creating sales collateral, web sites, direct mail materials, ads, thank you cards, editorial calendars, and more.  In particular, we have sought to impress upon you the importance of using such platforms to highlight your brand . . . while simultaneously using your branding experience to enhance the effectiveness and results of such opportunities.

About a year ago, we started supplementing our longer, more in-depth, instructional materials with some Quick Tips and Monday Motivational messages to serve as fast, easily absorbed reminders that might help keep the subject of branding at the forefront of your minds and consciousness.

While we have been gratified to watch our audience grow, we are always hoping to reach even more of you even faster . . . and are particularly appreciative when we recognize a regular, repeat reader.  You’d might be surprised to know that some of you who have consistently “Liked” our content have actually become quite important to us and are even part of the way in which we measure the success of a specific article.  When we have NOT seen you “Like” a post or comment upon our content in a while, we miss you and feel like we have left you down!

All that said, we do plan to keep keeping on . . . but would love to receive some more feedback about how you think we are doin’ so far . . . as well as some requests about where you would want to see us head in the future.  Such interaction would be extremely helpful and would better enable us to help you even more.  You can use the Comment box below to get a message to us or you are welcome to send us a private e-mail at brandbuildingforsmallbusiness@gmail.com.  We promise to consider your input carefully.

Meanwhile, good luck with your branding efforts . . . and keep checking out AND SHARING our newest content at www.brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com.

Approaching Social Influencers: Sample Text

In a recent post on Approaching Social Influencers (read that story here), I laid out components for drafting a pitch to your influencer of choice and said that I would provide some sample text going forward.  Today, I’m making good on that promise.  Below, you’ll find a quick reminder of the recommended components side by side with the corresponding fleshed out sample pitch. . . .

If you’d like, you can view the sample text here in full without the side-by-side explanation.

Hope you’ve found this helpful!  (And in case you were wondering, the Daily Deal group admin did feature the product, so . . . SUCCESS!  I hope you find an opportunity that’s perfect for you and your product as well!) 

If this sample pitch does prove useful for you guys, one or two additional samples will follow (I’m currently working on a pitch for a couple products for Christmas time).  Let me know of any questions or comments in the “Leave a Reply” section below. 

Branding Through Blogging

 If you haven’t considered starting your own company blog, you should, because that vehicle can be extremely useful in developing and promoting your brand.

Specifically, a blog:

  1. Creates a platform for defining who you are to existing and potential customers . . . as well as creating an additional regular need to further define yourself as you produce the ongoing content for your blog.
  2. Provides an opportunity to promote specific products and services while giving you the opportunity to highlight differentiating qualities – your sales advantage!
  3. Gives you a platform for telling your side of any story involving controversy or dispute.
  4. Can help humanize your company – associating a name and face with your operations.  (Toward that end, you might want to consider giving your key employees the chance to guest blog rather than assuming you need to produce all of the articles yourself, an approach that offers the added benefit of showcasing the depth and expertise of your organization.)
  5. Establishes a venue for starting a dialogue with your customers, especially highlighting the customer service philosophy you want associated with your brand.
  6. Provides a tool for generating new opt-in customer leads.  (Collecting e-mail addresses as part of your blog also develops a mailing list to push out notifications of new articles being available.)
  7. Adds valuable content to your website that can help boost your SEO (Search Engine Optimization) because substantial amounts of fresh content have a beneficial effect.
  8. Creates a platform for discussing your community involvements and charitable activities, which are elements of most company brands.
  9. Forces an ongoing process of self-examination crucial to staying on course with your branding strategy . . . while providing useful frequency in keeping the visual elements of your brand in front of your audience.
  10. Encourages the development of your online brand personality and social media presence as you repopulate content across those outlets.

Plus . . . you get to build new accompanying skills learned while managing your blog.

With so many potential benefits, what is the possible downside?

Full disclosure – the company that I worked for across many years never did start an official company blog during my tenure, though I was certainly a proponent and made the suggestion several times.  That said, I understood the reluctance – with the main obstacle being the potential drain on resources.  To be successful, a blog requires regular content;  you have to assume many hours of talent will be spent:

  • Writing the articles.
  • Building and maintaining the web site presence that houses the blog.
  • Updating/removing/archiving out of date content.
  • Responding to any feedback . . . and perhaps retooling operations to address this market intelligence.
  • Monitoring impact upon SEO and social media activities.

Furthermore . . .

If you elect to highlight the efforts and contributions of key employees and make them part of your brand, any loss of talent to other companies (for example, an employee leaves your business to work for the competition) is magnified and becomes even more potentially damaging to your success.

The Bottom Line:  To Blog or Not To Blog – That is the Question

While I understand the possible downside, I suspect the risk of committing to a blog might be greater for large established companies than small ones.  If you have the necessary patience and commitment . . . as well as the required communications skills, I believe a blog can be a very useful tool in building and maintaining your brand identity.  While you will certainly be devoting key resources, the content you create can provide many ancillary benefits, including support of your marketing, social media, and web development activities (among others).  Just know that, like every other worthwhile endeavor – any payback is in direct proportion to the time, effort, and talent invested!

New Year Resolution: Perform an Annual 5-Step Brand Wellness Checkup

As I write this article, a New Year has just begun . . . bringing a much-welcomed fresh start. 

We all hope (and optimistically expect) that 2021 will be a much better, more normal year for all of us – including small businesses that suffered such hardships during 2020.  For them (our primary audience), I offer my best wishes for a strong start as well as a suggestion for an additional New Year’s resolution:  performance of a simple “annual brand checkup” to identify and make any needed adjustments.

Please note that I have chosen the word “checkup” very carefully to suggest a simple self-help exercise – not a complete “brand audit” that can be highly structured, very time consuming, and quite expensive when third parties are utilized.  As a quick DIY alternative that can, therefore, be accomplished much more frequently, the 5 Steps of a Brand Wellness Checkup include the following:

  1. Examine all of your advertising, web site, and collateral sales and instructional material to make sure the documents conform to your Style Guide.  If they do not, you need to determine whether the materials or the guide need updating.
  2. Determine whether the qualities used to define yourself and, therefore, your brand are still the right ones and are practiced daily by your staff and operations.  To do this, talk to your employees and check in with a few of your regular customers.  (Since we are talking about a checkup – not an audit – a number of informal conversations might be all that is needed . . . as opposed to surveys, telemarketing efforts, research focus groups etc.)
  3. Look at your logo and branding statements with a fresh eye to determine whether they still reflect who you are and want to be.  If not, incorporate a gradual revision into your plans – allowing sufficient time and resources to do the job well.
  4. Revisit your customer service protocols to make sure they are delivering the level of excellence you seek, making any needed adjustments to your practices.
  5. Reinforce your branding message with your staff to make sure your identity is getting communicated to customers in the intended way.

Remember, the point of this exercise is to make sure that at least once a year you stop and revisit your most basic branding decisions and their implementation.  By doing so annually, you can make sure you do not unwittingly drift off course . . . and can make minor adjustments to right yourself before a major, potentially difficult, and expensive overhaul is required.  (To learn more about activities associated with the items mentioned above, visit our menu item labeled “Your Brand:  The Beginning” or visit this page.)

While most New Year’s Resolutions are abandoned by February, this goal is one that can and should be done as early as possible at the start of the year.

Good luck . . . and keep thinking positive thoughts about 2021 and beyond.

How I Learned Social Influencers Rule the World

It was a normal Tuesday evening a few days before Halloween.  I was answering customers’ questions on my computer, and I heard the usual “cha ching” sound, letting me know I had a sale.  I went to my purchases page and saw a vanilla extract label template was sold, and I sent the customer the customary thank you message that includes some basic instructions.  Then, I heard the “cha ching” again and experienced a little deja vu, since the order was for the same product.  Moments later, one “cha ching” interrupted another, creating an odd “cha cha ching” sound.  All purchases were for the same product.  At this point, I’m thinking to myself, ‘I don’t feel like I’ve had a lot of sales for that item before.’  A quick look at my product statistics confirmed that — since release — that item had only one or two sales per week.  Interrupting my research, “cha ching.” 

I started receiving questions about the item as well, and so I responded with answers to their questions along with a question of my own: “How did you hear about this item?”  I learned that a social influencer on Instagram posted a video about making your own vanilla extract and included my label template. 

I checked out her page (Daryl-Ann Denner at instagram.com/darylanndenner) and saw that she had over 600,000 followers (at that time; now her tally is getting close to 800,000!).  I found the video and watched as Daryl-Ann and her mother (a very likable duo) show how to make vanilla extract and talk about my labels in the process.

(Complete video: https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/18125117938087853/)

I have to admit, I felt a bit starstruck.  I acknowledged the silliness; a product of mine was shown on someone else’s Instagram page; big deal.  Enter perspective.  Still, this person had over 600,000 followers, and she included me in her little world.  And in her world, when Daryl-Ann Denner says vanilla extract is a “Best DIY Christmas Gift,” her followers listen.  In that first 24-hour period, there would be over 300 “cha chings” for vanilla extract labels.  Since then, the total count has grown to 2,829 orders at the time of this writing (October 27th through December 29th).  The total sales since originally releasing the item on January 1st, 2020 is 2,865, so a whopping 36 sales had occurred in the ten months prior to the product being featured.

I don’t believe any advertising could have yielded anything close to these results.  So, that’s how I learned that – as the title of this post suggests – social influencers rule the world . . . or at least the small piece of the world in which they reign. 

So how, as small business owners, do we benefit from this recognition?  Obviously, I would love to replicate this success.  And sure, it would be wonderful for another social influencer to simply stumble upon one of my products and decide to feature it, but I don’t think I’m lucky enough for lightning to just strike twice.  I also don’t know if I have the ability to compel lightning . . . but I’m definitely going to try.  I will be spending a good chunk of time researching and doing some trial and error of my own on the best ways to approach social influencers.  If I come up with a winning combination, you will be the first to know!  Stay tuned! 

Hallmark Knows Holiday Branding!

The snow starts to fall.

The camera zooms in . . . as the couple begins a long-delayed (at least two hours) passionate kiss.

The movie ends – HAPPILY, of course – with the pair united just in time for the Christmas holiday but clearly destined to live happily ever after.

For millions of people, December (which now starts on November 1st) means decorations, presents, Santa Claus, reindeer, AND Hallmark!!  The company has become (through years of careful brand building effort) inextricably associated with the warmth, cheerfulness, and good feelings of Christmas – not a bad set of qualities to have linked with your name and your brand.  In fact, so many people have found so much comfort from Hallmark Christmas movies, the company tried to ease the burden of the 2020 pandemic by providing around-the-clock Christmas fare outside the season during a period of heightened restrictions on normal, daily activities.

Clearly, Hallmark is a company that has learned an important truth – linking your brand to a holiday and feelings associated with that time can be a useful tool in your branding arsenal.

Other successful examples?

  • Do you happen to know someone who is a Dunkin’ spiced pumpkin latte fanatic?  (While not exactly tied to a specific holiday, the annual reintroduction of this special is invariably associated with the feelings of fall . . . and Halloween . . . and Thanksgiving.)
  • The Cadbury Candy company makes special Easter eggs, taking advantage of the natural and favorite tie-ins between Easter, the bunny, and candy.
  • Hershey (and the company’s signature kisses) are a Valentine’s Day tradition.

Other examples abound.  (If interested, read “How 5 Leading Brands Embraced The Holiday Season” OR perhaps about “Five Food Brands That Own Christmas”.)  Frankly, the list could go on and on, and I’m sure you can easily find a dozen examples of your own.

So . . . How Do You Make a Holiday Brand Happen?

To some degree, you have to rely upon luck – recognizing an early connection to a holiday that you see has potential and can build upon.  However, some basic steps can be taken.

Most holidays have some familiar sentiments and iconography associated with them.  Try making a list of those attributes and a list of the attributes and iconography already associated with your brand.  A sufficient number of matches between the two lists suggests you may have a likely candidate for brand building.  Starting with some basis for the connection (which is the point of this exercise) should increase your likelihood of success and reduce the amount of time required.  Once you have a candidate, some of the activities that can be used to build the connection between your brand and the holiday are:

  • Become involved with the community during that time of the year.  Linking yourself to charitable causes helps build goodwill and links your product or service to an activity associated with the season.
  • Plan to conduct your periods of heightened sales and marketing activities in conjunction with the holiday, including advertising and special promotions (budget permitting).
  • Do slight variations of your visual branding that encompass those of the holiday without sacrificing the continuity of your basic elements.

By consistently promoting the ties between you and your chosen holiday over time, you can gradually build a brand identity that assumes some of the characteristics of that celebration.  (Even Hallmark’s special relationship with Christmas did not happen overnight!!)

Looking for more suggestions, see “5 Branding Tips for the Holidays” by Debbie Laskey for the Digital Branding Institute.

Don’t Overlook Opportunities Presented by Lesser-Known Holidays

While you were certainly aware that Christmas and Hannukah were linked to December, were you also aware that these additional special observances existed?

  • National Tie Month
  • National Write a Business Plan Month
  • Bingo Month
  • Write a Friend Month

Above and beyond those monthly celebrations, you have special days (examples cited below are from 2020):

  • Giving Tuesday, December 1
  • International Day of Persons with Disabilities, December 3
  • Cookie Day, December 4
  • Volunteer Day, December 5
  • Aviation Day, December 7
  • Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, December 7
  • Start of Hanukkah, December 10
  • Human Rights Day, December 10
  • International Mountain Day, December 11
  • Green Monday, December 14
  • Wright Brothers Day, December 17
  • Winter Solstice, December 21
  • Festivus, December 23
  • Christmas Eve, December 24
  • Christmas, December 25
  • National Thank You Note Day, December 26
  • Boxing Day (Canada), December 26
  • Start of Kwanzaa, December 26
  • No Interruptions Day, December 27
  • Tick Tock Day, December 29
  • Bacon Day, December 30
  • Make Up Your Mind Day, December 31
  • New Year’s Eve, December 31

(As I sit and write this draft, I now realize I should be planning my International Mountain Day Celebration!!)

Dozens of such occasions occur throughout the year that could provide special marketing opportunities for small businesses.  For a complete list, see Anita Campbell’s article in Small Business Trends  “Huge List of National Holidays for Marketing in a Small Business”; you just might find a number of events already exist that are inherently symbiotic with your operations.

Regardless of whether you decide the time is right for you to act on the advice in today’s article, my blogging partner and I would like to wish you a safe and happy holiday season, being sure to tune into a Hallmark Christmas movie or two while filling out your Hallmark Christmas cards to send to family and friends . . . to show you care.

What Comes Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

Last year, we published a Small Business Saturday article that provided an overview of the history of the event as well as the potential importance, offering a glimpse at some of the strategies that could be used by small businesses to link this celebration to their brand.

That was last year, which now seems like a decade ago! 

Over 50 million confirmed Covid-19 global cases later, including over 10 million in the United States (see data), most small businesses have had to face incredible challenges as many countries closed down their economies in order to slow the progress of the pandemic.

While a truly unfortunate number of smaller operations have now permanently closed their doors, we need to take a moment this Small Business Saturday to celebrate the survivors . . . and support them in whatever means are available to us.

Expanded Internet activities.  Free delivery.  New products (maybe even including personal protective gear).  Go Fund Me initiatives.  Special Governmental programs.  All of these strategies and so many more have been essential to the continued existence of the survivors.

While statistics clearly indicate that a second wave of the pandemic is upon us and caution that the upcoming holidays will require us to practice some self-restraint, we feel confident that small businesses will survive while still managing to practice governmental safety standards.  Hopefully, by Small Business Saturday 2021 on November 27th, one or more vaccines will have been released and administered to a sufficiently large number of people to put this pandemic behind us for once and for all.

In the meantime, we will not use this article to do more than serve as a cheerleader for small businesses (including that of my blogging partner – Instant Invitation).  Instead, we will invite you to reread our story from last year and to check out some other valuable repositories of information and strategies.

Nicolas Straut, a contributing writer at Fundera, has put together an overview of Small Business Saturday

https://www.fundera.com/blog/small-business-saturday

Similarly, American Express, which founded the day and holds the registered trademark, makes a wide variety of useful resources available, including a Shop Small campaign:

https://www.americanexpress.com/us/small-business/shop-small/

https://www.americanexpress.com/us/merchant/shop-small.html#toolkit?linknav=us-loy-homepage-visittheshopsmallstudio

Nestled between Black Friday (a tradition which also appears to be undergoing transformations during this time of social distancing) and Cyber Monday, which continues to grow in size and significance, the role and importance of Small Business Saturday cannot be lost.